After three months’ delay, Democrats in the U.S. House late Friday delivered final approval on a $1.2-trillion measure to repair roads and bridges, improve public transit, increase access to broadband Internet and more, sending to President Joe Biden for his signature a bill worth billions in improvements to Michigan’s infrastructure.
It gives Biden a win after months when he has seen his job approval numbers falter under inflationary pressures, supply chain slowdowns, an initially chaotic withdrawal of U.S. forces from Afghanistan and continued public angst over the persistence of and response to COVID-19. His slipping numbers played a role in Democrats’ losing the race for Virginia’s governorship this week, where the party had success in electing statewide candidates over the last decade.
But by passing a massive infrastructure bill he overcame obstacles that stymied former President Donald Trump’s multiple attempts to do likewise despite having larger majorities in Congress his first two years in office.
As part of a legislative two-step, the House also passed a procedural measure that will allow for its consideration of a sweeping, $1.85-trillion social spending plan, known as the Build Back Better Act, though it wasn’t immediately clear when that bill would be voted on or what it might look like after the Senate takes that legislation up following a House vote.
Earlier in the evening, Biden put out a statement even as he and his staff were calling Democratic lawmakers, trying to line up the necessary votes and allay fears of some progressive Democrats that efforts to pass the social spending plan would lose steam once the infrastructure bill was approved. “I am urging all members to vote for both the rule for consideration of the Build Back Better Act and final passage of the Bipartisan Infrastructure bill tonight,” he said. “I am confident that during the week of November 15, the House will pass the Build Back Better Act.”
Where the outcome and scope of that larger bill very much remains a question mark, the infrastructure bill — the largest in decades — is certain to be considered a highlight of Biden’s first term legacy. It could be worth upwards of $10 billion to Michigan and potentially more, including:
- $7.3 billion in federal highway aid, $563 million for bridge replacement and repairs, and the chance to compete with other states for tens of billions more in projects deemed economically important.
- $1 billion for buses, rail lines and other means of public transportation.
- $100 million, at minimum, to help extend broadband Internet coverage, including across large rural sections of the state where it is lacking.
- $1 billion over five years to be added to the $200 million to $300 million a year that is used to pay for environmental projects in and around the Great Lakes.
- $7.5 billion to help build electrical vehicle charging stations across the U.S., greatly helping Michigan’s automakers in their attempt to shift to selling more electric cars and trucks.
Considering that Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, a Democratic ally of Biden’s who is up for reelection next year, ran for her first term in 2018 under a promise to “Fix the Damn Roads,” the $550 billion in new funding nationwide over the next five years, as well as hundreds of billions in funding for existing programs, could come at an opportune time for her.
It definitely will come as a relief to Michiganders sick of driving on substandard roads and bridges.
“The bipartisan infrastructure plan is a win-win for Michigan because it will create countless good-paying, blue collar jobs, while helping us fix even more roads and bridges across the state,” Whitmer said Saturday.
Earlier this year, Whitmer told a U.S. Senate committee that more than 40% of the state’s major roads are in poor or mediocre condition, some 1,000 bridges are in poor or critical condition, and the average annual cost to Michigan motorists of car repairs, depreciation and wear and tear run more than $600.
“The passage of the bipartisan infrastructure bill is a win for Michigan and the country as we deliver on our promise to build back better, rebuild our crumbling infrastructure the right way — so that it cuts costs for taxpayers — and strengthen our economy and the Great Lakes,” said Sen. Gary Peters, D-Michigan. The legislation included $500 million in funding he secured to help mitigate shoreline erosion, flooding and rising water levels to help Great Lakes communities as well.
U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Michigan, also noted the bill includes measures she and Peters pushed to ensure the federal government uses American-made products in its contracts. “There is so much in here of critical importance to Michigan — from rebuilding roads and bridges, to the removal of lead pipes, to high-speed internet in every corner of Michigan, to the largest single investment ever made in the Great Lakes,” she said.
“With this bipartisan infrastructure bill, President Biden and Democrats in Congress have delivered for Michigan,” said U.S. Rep. Dan Kildee, D-Flint Township. “For decades, our state’s infrastructure has suffered from a lack of investment. This historic infrastructure bill will deliver tens of billions of dollars in much-needed investments to improve roads, repair bridges and replace lead pipes across Michigan.”
Michigan Democratic Party Chair Lavora Barnes said, “it’s not hyperbole to say that the bipartisan infrastructure deal will change lives,” by creating thousands of jobs, expanding access to high-speed internet and investing billions of dollars across the state.
House Republicans, despite the fact that the infrastructure bill was written in part by their colleagues in the Senate, decried it as too expensive and inextricably linked with Democrats’ plans to vastly expand government and raise taxes. “No one seemed to pay attention when people earlier this week said we don’t want big government,” U.S. Rep. Michael Burgess, R-Texas, said during floor debate Friday, referring to the Virginia election.
“Tonight’s vote is a bridge to the land of reckless spending,” said U.S. Rep. Bill Huizenga, R-Holland Township, reiterating Republican claims that the true cost of the bills together will be upwards of $5 trillion. “There was a more targeted and cost effective way to do infrastructure that was rejected by the (Biden administration) and (House) Speaker (Nancy) Pelosi,” Huizenga posted on Twitter. “I will not support legislation that spends more than necessary and opens the door for trillions upon trillions of spending on liberal and socialist priorities.”
U.S. Rep. Peter Meijer, R-Grand Rapids, said because Democratic leadership linked passage of the infrastructure bill with the fate of the social spending bill, “I had no choice but to vote against both.” He added, “Our country desperately needs commonsense infrastructure investments, and I am deeply frustrated that Democrats chose to play petty politics with such a critical issue.”
The business community was elated, however. Joshua Bolten, president and CEO of the Business Roundtable, representing the nation’s largest corporations, said the bill was “vital for the economy and will drive America’s long-term prosperity and competitiveness.” U.S. Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Suzanne Clark called it “a major win for America.”
Deal took months to bring to fruition
Biden and the White House worked for months with a bipartisan group of U.S. senators to get it passed in that chamber in August, with 19 Republicans joining all 50 members who are either Democrats or caucus with the party to approve it.
But in the House, the vote was delayed for months as the infrastructure bill was linked more directly to the social spending bill — which no Republican in either chamber has endorsed — with progressives demanding a vote on that bill before agreeing to support the infrastructure measure.
That led to a long back-and-forth between the progressive and centrist wings of the Democratic Party, which holds a slim majority in the House, with more moderate Democrats, representing seats that could be vulnerable to Republican challenges next year, balking at the cost and scope of the social agenda proposal, even though most of them are considered likely to vote for it in the end, even at some political risk to themselves.
Progressives, meanwhile, argued that without the infrastructure bill hanging in the balance, they were worried their more moderate colleagues would abandon the social spending plan altogether. On Friday, with both bills still awaiting action, Pelosi opened the session at 8 a.m. with the belief that votes would soon follow.
Instead, moderates raised new objections, saying they wanted to see the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office — and not just the White House — put an official estimate on how much the social spending package would cost and how much its revenue measures would raise toward paying for it. Pelosi, D-California, held open a vote on a Republican motion to adjourn for some seven hours — a record in the U.S. House — while leaders worked with moderates and progressives alike to chart a path forward.
It eventually led to an agreement by which the procedural rule for the social spending plan was to be passed, so Democrats could claim some progress on that, along with passage of the infrastructure bill. Moderates put out a statement committing to vote for the Build Back Better Act, as currently written, in two weeks’ time as long as the CBO confirms the costs and revenues estimated by the White House.
After that, U.S. Rep. Pramila Jayapal, D-Washington state, who chairs the Congressional Progressive Caucus, said its members were satisfied. “As part of this agreement, at the request of the president, and to ensure we pass both bills through the House, progressives will advance the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act and the House rule on Build Back Better tonight.”
At 11:26 p.m., the House voted 228-206 to pass the infrastructure bill, with 13 Republicans voting for it and only six Democrats voting against. Passage of the procedural measure on the Biden spending plan followed after midnight.
Among Michigan’s seven House Democrats, only one, U.S. Rep. Rashida Tlaib, D-Detroit, voted against the infrastructure bill. Tlaib had made clear for weeks she intended to vote against the legislation if the social spending plan wasn’t voted on first. As for the seven Republican members of the state’s delegation, only one, U.S. Rep. Fred Upton, R-St. Joseph, voted for it, as he said he would.
In a statement, Tlaib said she voted against the bill because it stands to worsen pollution in some communities she represents without the passage of the social agenda plan’s measures. “I voted against (the infrastructure plan) because I represent some of the most polluted zip codes in Michigan and the country,” she said.
Upton, meanwhile, called the infrastructure bill “commonsense legislation that will support critical projects in Michigan without raising taxes or increasing the debt. It will help rebuild our highways and harbors, replace lead water pipes in Benton Harbor and across the country, expand broadband to underserved communities, strengthen our grid against Russian and Chinese cyberattacks and create jobs across southwest Michigan.”
U.S. Rep. Elissa Slotkin, D-Holly, said the bipartisan nature of the bill’s passage was important, even if some progressive Democrats voted against it. “Passing this bill is the clearest signal we can send … that bipartisan agreement is still possible, and that Congress can deliver for the American people on the biggest challenges we face. After decades of talk about rebuilding our infrastructure, tonight we got it done.”
Impact on Michiganders of proposed social spending bill would be vast
There are still strong reasons to believe that the social spending package, even if trimmed significantly by the Senate, will be of a scope not seen since the 1960s when Medicare and Medicaid were created, anti-poverty programs were enacted and racial justice laws were passed.
As it is, hundreds of thousands — if not millions — of Michiganders would be impacted by the vast and various aspects of Biden’s so-called Build Back Better Act as it is expected to be considered by the U.S. House.
As currently proposed, it includes four weeks of paid family or medical leave; free preschool for every child in America; an extended child tax credit that was put in place earlier this year; improved access to child care and subsidies to bring the cost below a certain percentage of income for lower-earning families; a hearing benefit under Medicare; expanded Medicaid in states that declined to offer greater access under the Affordable Care Act; continued subsides to cover the cost of premiums under the ACA; billions to build low-income housing, pay for housing vouchers and improve homeownership; an increase in the amount of state and local taxes homeowners can deduct from their federal tax bills; and a program to allow some 7 million immigrants in the country without documentation to apply for work and travel permits for up to five years.
And that’s not everything.
Another key aspect for Michigan is a $550 billion investment in fighting climate change, a suite of measures that includes extension and expansion of a tax credit that can slash the price of a new electric car or truck by up to $12,500 if it is made by union labor, was assembled in the U.S. and meets certain other standards.
Other programs — including those that would give credits to manufacturers building or converting plants to support EV adoption or install electric charging stations at workplaces and housing units and retail outlets across the U.S. — are also intended to speed adoption of electric vehicles and trucks with automakers bringing dozens of new models to market in the years to come.
Final scope of social bill still not known
While the EV credits appear likely to remain in whatever version of the social spending bill the Senate produces, the same cannot be said of some other proposals.
The immigration proposal may not pass muster with the Senate parliamentarian, who will decide if it is germane to budgetary matters, as it must be; centrist Democrats in the Senate, whose votes are needed, have already raised concerns about including the paid family and medical leave provision and some other portions of the bill.
Still, many of the other parts of the bill, if they remain, could be transformational for families in Michigan.
Last week, after unveiling an initial version of the measure House leaders and the White House hoped would be voted on quickly, the Biden administration put out a fact sheet on Friday noting it could help provide more affordable child care for more than 600,000 Michigan children under the age of 5 and free public preschool to more than 200,000 3- and 4-year-olds in the state who don’t have access to that now.
Also included was $350 million for the purchase of a new Great Lakes icebreaker, billions for lead pipe remediation nationwide and new funding to invest in managing stormwater, a key consideration in a state that saw widespread problems with flooding this year.
While it’s taken months to get to this point, the future path looks just as fraught for the social spending bill, with progressives in the Senate, like Bernie Sanders of Vermont, wanting even more programs in the bill, and centrists Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona making it clear they support a more-limited bill.
With each party having 50 sitting senators and Republicans unanimously against the legislation, Democrats will need every vote, as well as the tie-breaking vote from Vice President Kamala Harris, to pass the bill under a process known as budget reconciliation. That process allows Democrats to get around the 60-member threshold needed to proceed to a vote on most issues, but also requires the Senate parliamentarian to decide what is and isn’t germane to the federal budget.
Republicans, meanwhile, were expected to continue to rail against the bill’s sweeping expansion of government, given that the Democrats have slim majority margins in Congress, and a cost paid for by increasing taxes on wealthier Americans and corporations and enhancing the IRS’ ability to go after tax cheats.
As written by the House, the legislation has been criticized by some good government groups that argue it uses sleight of hand to balance its revenues with its costs, such as only funding a program for a few years or less, knowing it’s likely to be continued after that. Republicans, meanwhile, have decried the taxes sought by Democrats, including a 15% minimum tax on corporations with over $1 billion in profits, and an additional 5% tax rate on taxpayers with incomes over $10 million plus 3% more on those with incomes over $25 million.
This article originally appeared in the Detroit Free Press. For more, click here.